After taking over for fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in November of the 2019 season, Shane Steichen will return in 2020 in the same role. In 2019, Steichen showed he deserves the coveted Chargers’ job in 2020.
Firings during the season aren’t easy to handle, especially when it comes to someone like Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was partially responsible for Philip Rivers turning his career around after a really bad 2012 season and had been a franchise cornerstone for a while, even coming back after his head coaching stint in Tennessee.
All that being said, it was time for Whisenhunt to go, as the offense really needed some scheme changes and more varied play calling.
Steichen will be back in 2020, per reports. It’s all but done now as the organization works on a contract with him. It’s created some debate amongst Chargers fans and media personalities in general. Some see an inexperienced offensive coordinator who might be in over his head, but there’s a lot of reason to have hope for Steichen.
The Chargers really struggled in the red zone under Whisenhunt, but it did get better under Steichen. Red zone touchdown percentage increased from 48.1 percent under Whisenhunt to 57.7 percent under Steichen. Is that still below league average? Yes, but a nearly 10 percent jump when Steichen had to jump in midseason on the fly isn’t negligible to me.
This is all with Steichen working with a playbook he couldn’t really make many adjustments to during the year as well.
Another difference of significance was Steichen’s offense scored more per game in the same sample size. Under the first eight games with Whisenhunt, the Chargers averaged 19.6 points per game.
That went up nearly three points with the team scoring 22.5 points per game under Steichen. If you’re wondering how much of a difference that is, that current gap is the difference between being 24th in the league in points per game vs. being 16th.
Steichen also tended to have more interesting play designs and got some key pieces of the offense involved. Mike Williams had 419 yards in the first half of the season under Whisenhunt, while under Steichen he truly thrived with 582 yards and two touchdowns. Austin Ekeler had about the same amount of receiving in the second half, but had 50 more rushing yards.
Another big offensive shift was the philosophy regarding Melvin Gordon. Chargers fans frustratingly remember the types of carries Whisenhunt was giving to Gordon up the gut consistently on first and second down, and that started to shift under Steichen where he actually got a few breakout games from Gordon.
And, when Gordon did struggle on the ground in the last four games, Steichen found ways to get him more involved in the passing game. Gordon had at least five receptions every game in the last four.
Steichen isn’t without his flaws. Turnovers were one area where the offense worsened under him. However, the positives of bringing back Steichen with a full offseason and training camp to work things out outweigh the negatives by quite a lot.
Steichen showed a lot of bright spots during his eight-game stint as offensive coordinator, including increased red zone conversions, higher points per game, and getting some key Chargers weapons who were restrained under Whisenhunt more involved.